One of the great joys of touring France is visiting its many wineries, where you can connect with the scenery, the local people, and the history of a region one memorable glass at a time. Here are some tips to help you make the most of the experience.
1. Look for Degustation or Goutez on signs outside vineyards in the countryside. This means vineyards welcome guests and you may pull up and sample some wine. Depending on the setting, it may not be a formal tasting, and there may not be hired help waiting to pour you a glass, but be adventurous!
2. Know your AOCs. French wines are labeled based on their place of origin and quality. AoP stands for Appellation d’Origine Protégée. This is the highest standard of French wines. It replaces the long-used AoC (Appellation d’origine Contrôlée), though you will see many AoC wines still in circulation. Know that AoP and AoC are the best quality, followed by VDQS (Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure), then IGP (Indication Geographique Protegée, formerly Vin de Pays).
3. Take your time as you taste. The person pouring will likely appreciate your thoughtfulness and respect for their product. When you taste, examine the color, swirl the glass to unleash to aroma, tip the glass to your nose and take it in, then take a small sip.
4. Know your regions and their wines before you go. Look for the best Bordeaux coming from Graves, Médoc, and Saint Emilion. In Burgundy, look for special appellations like Côtes de Beaune. As for whites, look for Muscadet and sparkling wines in the Loire Valley. In Provence, enjoy refreshing, dry rosé wines. Look to Alsace for a dryer take on Riesling and Gewurztraminer. And toast the cellars of Champagne with…you guessed it. Read much more about France’s wine regions here.
5. Cheap out! Don’t be dissuaded from trying cheaper wines. Even VdT (Vin de Table) wines can be quite good. You can secure a decent table wine for 5 euro a bottle, and the makers of table wine are serious about their craft and take pride in their product.
6. Ask questions. If you encounter people in the vineyards who speak English, ask questions and learn. Show your appreciation of their wines and the process. Ask about the history of the vineyard, which may well overlap their family history.
7. Don’t bake the wine. If you are touring for the day, especially in summer, make your wine purchases toward the end of the day. You don’t want your wine to cook in a hot parked car, as its flavor will deteriorate. If you must, park in the shade to keep the car and its cargo as cool as possible.
8. Stay in the heart of the wine country. Staying in Provence gives you access to the Côtes de Provence and Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence appellations and lets you explore Chateauneuf-du-Pape; the wines pair well with the local cuisine, and the scenery and warm hospitality cannot be beat. In Alsace you can stay on a vineyard, within walking distance of picturesque villages and winemakers who make delicious German-style wines.
Enjoy your time in France. Cheers!